TUESDAY, Dec. 24, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- The Obama
Administration on Tuesday once again extended the deadline for
people to register for health insurance coverage on
The new extension follows a 24-hour "grace period" that was
granted on Monday -- beyond the original deadline of Monday 11:59
pm --for benefits that would kick in on Jan. 1.
In an blog Tuesday on the HealthCare.gov website, the Obama
Administration said that people who could prove that trouble on the
Healthcare.gov website had hindered them from signing up would be
granted an extension.
"Even though we have passed the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for coverage starting Jan. 1, we don't want you to miss out if you've been trying to enroll," the administration said in the blog.
"Sometimes despite your best efforts, you might have run into delays caused by heavy traffic to HealthCare.gov, maintenance periods, or other issues with our systems that prevented you from finishing the process on time. If this happened to you, don't worry, we still may be able to help you get covered as soon as Jan. 1," the message added.
The blog advised visitors: "Contact the Marketplace call center
at 1-800-318-2596 (available 24/7; closed December 25). TTY:
1-855-889-4325. Tell our customer service representative that
you've been trying to enroll and explain why you couldn't finish by
the deadline. They can tell you what you can do to finish your
enrollment and still get covered for 2014."
There was a record amount of traffic on Healthcare.gov on
The New York Timesreported, and health officials wanted to
make sure that people who are looking for coverage can get it.
In most states, Monday, Dec. 23 had been the deadline for
selecting a plan that would take effect on the first day of the new
"We would really encourage people to start now. Don't wait until the deadline to enroll," Cheryl Fish-Parcham, deputy director of health policy at Families USA in Washington, D.C., said last week.
People need to leave themselves enough time to gather the
information they need to complete an insurance application, select
a health plan and pay the premium by the health plan's deadline,
The pre-Christmas race to buy health insurance is another
consequence of the troubled launch of the Affordable Care Act's
HealthCare.gov website and website difficulties in a number of
state-run health insurance exchanges. Since the October launch of
the health exchanges, sign-up and premium-payment deadlines have
been extended to give people more time to enroll for coverage, but
the new cut-offs come amid the holiday rush.
Many people aren't aware of the various deadlines under the law,
sometimes called Obamacare. What's more, the deadlines may vary by
state and by health insurer, health insurance agents and brokers
"There is a lot of confusion," said Anna Causey, vice president of Combined Insurance Services Inc., a Pensacola, Fla.-based benefits broker.
Some people mistakenly believe they have until Dec. 31 to enroll
in a plan that takes effect on Jan. 1, Causey said. Others don't
realize they could pay a federal tax penalty if they don't have
health insurance in place by March 31, she said.
Under the Affordable Care Act, most adults will pay a $95
penalty -- or 1 percent of income -- in 2014 if they don't have
health insurance coverage. The penalty rises to $695 -- or 2
percent of income -- by 2016.
To avoid the penalty, people must enroll in a plan by Feb. 15 or
qualify for an exemption from the penalty, Causey said.
If you're in the market for health insurance, here are some key
dates to keep in mind:
What's the latest I can enroll in coverage for Jan. 1?
Consumers shopping on HealthCare.gov, the federal portal serving
individuals in 36 states, originally had until 11:59 p.m. ET on
Monday, Dec. 23, to enroll if they want coverage to take effect on
the first day of the new year. That was extended by 24 hours and
now is extended further for those people who had problems signing
up at HealthCare.gov.
What if I enroll through my state health insurance exchange?
Deadlines for Jan. 1 coverage may differ in states that operate
their own health exchanges.
Health insurers in Maryland, for instance, have agreed to extend
the sign-up deadline through Dec. 27, state officials announced
Tuesday. Consumers must pay their premiums by Jan. 15, the
Make sure to check with your state health exchange.
Can I enroll after Jan. 1?
Open enrollment for 2014 runs through March 31. If you buy
coverage, say, on Feb. 10, it won't kick in until March 1. If you
wait until March 31, your policy will take effect May 1.
There is no deadline for signing up for Medicaid or the
Children's Health Insurance Program.
If I enrolled in a private health-exchange plan by Dec. 23, when
is my premium due?
Recently, the federal government directed insurers to accept
payment by Dec. 31 and encouraged health plans to push the deadline
Consumers who signed up by Dec. 23 and pay the first month's
premium by Jan. 10 will have coverage on Jan. 1, the industry group
America's Health Insurance Plans announced last week.
However, the federal government cautions that not all health
insurers are extending the payment deadline, and some may require
payment on or before Dec. 31, 2013.
"Once you've enrolled, check with your plan that they've received your enrollment and what is the premium payment deadline and how do you go about paying your first month's premium," Fish-Parcham advised.
Is it better to enroll now or sometime before March 31?
Insurance brokers say it depends on your situation.
"The (health plan) options will not change," said Karen Sweeney, benefit consultant with PIT4 Medical Insurance Consultants, in Mesa, Ariz.
She recommends that individuals who are uninsured or who are
losing coverage on Jan. 1 "get with an educated insurance broker
and make a selection by Dec. 23."
People who have coverage that carries over into 2014, however,
don't necessarily need to rush to meet the cutoff time, brokers
Need help with your insurance application? HealthCare.gov has
getting health insurance coverage.
To read a related
HealthDaystory on last-minute exemptions for people who've
lost their health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, click
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